Ryan Steele, Broadway Performer.
[Interview Date: November 2, 2020]
Billy Elliot, Newsies, Carousel, West Side Story, An American in Paris and more.
Where were you on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?
I was at New 42 Studios, rehearsing for a new musical that was going out of town before a Broadway run, “Once Upon a One More Time”. The company was instantly like family. That company and the show felt so special, and it was so fun. And it was a voice that really needed to be heard. We were in rehearsals, and we heard rumblings of the Broadway shutdown, but we were still going on with the day as planned. But we had a Company Meeting at noon, and we were like, “Oh no.” We pretty much had our out-of-town canceled right away. That was supposed to be in May, and our Broadway Opening was supposed to be in October, so we did a last run through of the finale, and said our Goodbyes.
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?
I did not. I assumed that our out-of-town would be canceled. In hind-sight, this was incredibly optimistic; I thought we would be pushed back to the Fall. Because this is unprecedented, no one has ever heard about this happening. Broadway has never been shut down for this long.
Because our out-of-town was in Chicago. And New York and Chicago were pretty much on the same page. And our producer—she’s so wonderful—and she was leading a speech telling us what was going on. And she couldn’t say anything, officially, but I could kind of see it in her eyes that our out-of-town would be canceled.
Have you been able to continue dancing, in some capacity, since the shutdown? What has this time been like for you, in regards to your art?
Yes and no. I’ve been able to, but it’s just been motivation. I, initially, sort of was confused and didn’t know what was happening. And I didn’t know how to react, so I took a small break from doing anything. It was definitely necessary for me, and then I found a lot of inspiration on Instagram; people doing Instagram Live, people posting at-home workouts to do… people posting ballet barres to do. And then, I really dove in, in a really fun way. We’re dancers; we’re performers. We’re physical at work, so I never really had a workout routine, or something outside of what I do at work. I warm up; I go to dance class. I’ve gone to the gym, but the gym-going isn’t really a thing that I’ve ever done, so I need that guidance. So, I take ballet barre and some classes that my friends were streaming, which was not ideal, but I was able to move my furniture aside and dance a bit; which was really, really lovely. Also, I’ve been doing some dance films, as safe and socially-distanced as possible. I have a close group of friends and we’re all dancers and going through this. And we’re all in each other’s bubbles. And we’ve been trying our best to just get in the studio and create some work and choreograph on each other. And give each other classes… And we’ve been able to put some of our work on film too, which has been fantastic.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
I have to take it day-by-day, every day, day-by-day. When I think too far in the future, I start to spiral a bit when I think too far in the future of our industry… of my bank account, it’s really just day-by-day. And doing my best, celebrating the small victories. I cooked dinner today and didn’t order Seamless... Celebrating the small victories.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
It’s a lot of things that run under the same umbrella of not being able to work—which has been so hard. I have been in New York for over twelve years now, and my life has been theatre. And I’ve been lucky enough to have that be pretty consistent in my life, and be employed. So, I have this rhythm of working in theatre, and we don’t have that anymore. So, that has obviously been really challenging. And, under that umbrella, is the connection that we are missing; the community that we have is so special. And that’s so hard to be apart from. And, also, my stability that I’ve created over the last 12 years. My income, my way of life, my health insurance. I lost my Equity health insurance; I’ve had to find new health insurance—just, like, so much has changed. And it’s all been challenging. And I guess, at the top of it, is not having a job! When I think, ‘work’; when I say, ‘job’; even when we’re unemployed, we’re working. Because we are going to auditions, so we have that, even when we’re unemployed. And we’ve all been unemployed. We’ve all lived unemployed. But we have auditions four times a week; we’re learning sides; we’re going to classes. We’re able to be around people.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
I’m always looking at the silver lining, and this has been really trying that. But I started to see a therapist, which has been really wonderful for me to learn different tools about myself, to cope. And I think I’ve always been a self-realized human, but this is obviously an exceptional time for everyone. So, I’ve been seeing a therapist, because it’s been helping me cope and deal with things, which has definitely been a silver lining for me.
What is your biggest concern right now?
Finding that stability that I had, in terms of finances and health care and work, and I’m worried about the future of our industry. Just finding that stability, that way of life that I was used to.
What do you wish people outside the industry understood better about what we’re going through?
This is a greater question that we’ve always battled—of people saying, “Oh, that’s your job?” And, it’s not just dinner and a show for us. When you come to New York, as a tourist, it’s a beautiful evening of going to dinner and going to theatre. But that’s your night. It’s our lives. And I don’t think people realize how big of a part of the economy, theatre is in live performance. And we’re not treated that way. We bring more money into New York City than live sports, and our salaries are obviously nowhere near professional athletes. I also wish people realized that we are in the top small percentage of our field. I have been working on Broadway since I was 18 years-old, and I just lost my health insurance. I am unable to pay my bills. It’s wild that people see performers onstage, and they think it’s this lavish life we’re living, and we’re taking black cars. But we’re taking the subway. We can’t afford to take a black car, and when we’re unemployed, and our industry is shut down, we’re losing our health insurance. We’re losing essential pieces to live. We need these things, and we’re not given them. And when we say we need them, people roll their eyes and say “cute hobby, sorry it’s not happening right now.”
What do you miss the most about live theatre?
I miss the community. I miss the little things: I miss walking in to the theatre, I miss signing in, I miss saying ‘hi’ to Stage Management. I miss sitting in my dressing room, eating a snack and having a coffee with the cast, and getting ready, and having little handshakes backstage. I miss those things.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
This is the most recent theatre memory that I have, so it’s the most prominent of my mind: Last year, I performed An American in Paris at the Chatelet in Paris. It was so fun, and it was with some of the original company, some of the touring company, some of the West End company. And I got to play Jerry, and it was at the Chatelet, which it premiered at. And a couple hours before the last performance, I just sat onstage and looked out at the house. And just had a really intense, emotional experience; it was so special. It was a dream; to be a dancer and get to do Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, to sing that Gershwin music, and to do it with someone like Leanne Cope, who I’ve looked up to for years. And to do it at the Chatelet in Paris… Also, I didn’t know that it was going to be my last time onstage. So, I’ve been thinking a a lot about that. And whenever I close a show, I tell myself, “This could be your last time onstage. You never know what’s going to happen.” And I’m glad I had that moment, because it was my last time onstage. And who knows when we’re going to get back?
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
I’m just excited, at the end of the show, for the lights to come on and see the audience. To see a big group of people, enjoying theatre.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
So, the young Broadway hopefuls will be shaping the future of theatre. And right now, there’s this ginormous opportunity that, hopefully, everyone is taking seriously; about what’s next, and how our industry will change and grow, and be affected by this. And the young people will be the pioneers for that, and the voices behind that. So, persevere in performance, but definitely in creation.
Favorite Broadway Musical: It’s different every time someone asks me, but I think I’m going to say, Movin’ Out, because it’s the first Broadway show I saw.
Favorite role you’ve played: Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris
Dream role: The guy who dies in Movin’ Out. Pretty ballet dude. His name is James.
Favorite style of dance: Musical Theatre, but technical Musical Theatre.
Favorite dance icon (Fred Astaire etc.): I have a million people to say… so I’ll just go with Gene Kelly.
Favorite Movie Musical: Chicago
Movie that you think should be a musical: I just watched this last night, Now and Then. I think it would be really cute!
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or Tradition: This happens in most shows. I love a circle-up when the curtain goes up. Sometimes, Josh Henry, in Carousel led it, and he had the most beautiful things to say. And we had a word of the day, and it would be whatever you wanted. And he chose someone, at random, and if the first word to come to their mind was “patience” or “energy.” And we were all living that word. Which I thought was really beautiful and helped us come together, as a company.
Favorite NYC Restaurant: I’m going to say Jasper’s on 51st. It’s like a Cheers bar. Everyone knows me there, and I know them.
Favorite Theatre Superstition: The ghost-light is a cool thing.
Favorite Dressing Room Item: A muscle rub called Deep Blue. DoTerra.
Rehearsal bag staple: Theraband.